Re­shap­ing eco­nomic se­cu­rity

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Ikram Se­h­gal

IN the back­drop of the Afghanistan con­flict and the up­heaval in Syria, the 9th World­wide Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by the East West In­sti­tute (EWI) in Brus­sels, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the World Cus­toms Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WCO), brought to­gether around 300 pol­i­cy­mak­ers, busi­ness per­sons and pub­lic-opin­ion lead­ers from all over the world. The event was held with the ob­jec­tive of brain­storm­ing is­sues of eco­nomic se­cu­rity in the re­gion, with par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the en­ergy-wa­ter­food nexus. The with­drawal of Nato troops from Afghanistan by 2014 is bound to have a pro­found im­pact in the re­gion and present sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties, lead­er­ship changes tak­ing place along with new think­ing presents a unique op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand net­works, break down bar­ri­ers and face the chal­lenges with con­certed com­mit­ment.

WCO sec­re­tary gen­eral Dr Ku­nio Mikuriya called for en­sur­ing of greater con­nec­tiv­ity to fo­cus on eco­nomic growth and se­cu­rity in the Mid­dle East and South­west Asia. Fin­land’s former pres­i­dent and No­bel lau­re­ate Martti Ahti­saari ap­pealed for curb­ing con­flicts in the re­gion. “The na­tions need to work to build a se­cu­rity or­gan­i­sa­tion that bridges ma­jor di­vides, build­ing trust de­pends on build­ing re­la­tion­ships.” En­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pants to make spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions on cross-bor­der in­fra­struc­ture, the water-en­ergy-food nexus, youth un­em­ploy­ment and so­cial marginal­i­sa­tion, Ahti­saari said: “Peace will never come to the Mid­dle East un­less the Pales­tine-Is­rael prob­lem is re­solved. Peace is a ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal will. Ac­tion for con­flict re­duc­tion is needed. We need to pro­pose more open bor­ders to cope with the is­sue of Pales­tine and other big is­sues, such as Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme.” Ahti­saari sounded a note of cau­tion about the scope of the chal­lenges. “The re­gion has too of­ten been host to re­gional ten­sion and con­flict, and a bat­tle­ground for com­pet­ing out­side in­ter­ests. In the 21st cen­tury this vast area has be­come the core of global pol­i­tics. Only fur­ther devel­op­ment and di­rec­tion will de­ter­mine what kind of 21st cen­tury we all will be fac­ing. In this re­gion the very cred­i­bil­ity of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is at stake.” The present deadly Ha­mas-Is­raeli con­fronta­tion at Gaza makes Ahti­saari’s rec­om­men­da­tions take on added poignancy and ur­gency.

Am­bas­sador He­sham Youssef, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Arab League, said: “Un­for­tu­nately, we have not pre­vented po­lit­i­cal trou­bles from harm­ing eco­nomic in­ter­ests. Dur­ing 2011, for­eign in­vest­ment de­clined by 38 per­cent. With five per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, the Arab world has 0.7 per­cent of the world’s water. Po­ten­tial con­flicts over scarce re­sources, par­tic­u­larly water, are an­other ma­jor con­cern. Many ex­perts have been pre­dict­ing that the next war in the Mid­dle East will be about water.”

Dr Khalid Ma­lik, head of the UNDP’s Hu­man Devel­op­ment Report (au­thored in 1994 by the late Dr Mah­bubul Haq), noted that the se­cu­rity shift away from mil­i­tary guard­ing bor­ders is to se­cu­rity con­cerns ad­dress­ing peo­ple, peo­ple’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, free­dom from want and free­dom from fear. “The no­tion of states and state sys­tems has clouded that point.” Speak­ing of food se­cu­rity, he said that de­spite abun­dant re­sources, peo­ple would go hun­gry. He called it a mat­ter not of avail­abil­ity, but of af­ford­abil­ity. Khalid Ma­lik said it was im­por­tant to put peo­ple first. Stress­ing on the need of soft bor­ders rather than hard bor­ders, he said that the chang­ing world called for new think­ing. The take­away from the con­fer­ence was hope, aware­ness that neigh­bours mat­ter and the need for con­scious pol­icy choices to strengthen re­gional ties.

Some ques­tions were placed be­fore the pan­el­lists in the ses­sion chaired by me as an EWI board mem­ber. What ma­jor gains can be achieved through pri­vate-sec­tor involvement in ad­dress­ing water-en­ergy-food se­cu­rity in the re­gion and what crit­i­cal is­sues in­hibit pri­vate-sec­tor involvement? How can th­ese is­sues be re­solved? Pan­el­list Te­wadros Ashenafi of Ethiopia said: “The government, pri­vate sec­tor and civil so­ci­ety must work to­gether to solve the chal­lenges. (It is) a chal­lenge that calls for in­no­va­tion. Be­cause of its in­no­va­tive en­trepreneur­ship the pri­vate sec­tor must be a very strong ac­tor in this water-en­ergy-food nexus. En­trepreneurs were real­is­tic op­por­tunists and there was a lot of op­por­tu­nity for in­no­va­tive think­ing.”

Pan­el­list Prof C S Kiang, chair­man of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Tech­nol­ogy Foun­da­tion in Bei­jing, stated that it was im­por­tant to recog­nise the prob­lem ac­cu­rately, not just talk about sus­tain­able de­vel-

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